Think Fairy Tales… And Love at First Sight… And Obstacles Overcome… And Rags to Riches… And Happy Ever After… Patricia Brent, Spinster, by Herbert George Jenkins, is all these, and is one of the most delightful books I’ve read this year. If you liked Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day you will love this – it’s every bit as funny and light-hearted, and features an equally unobtrusive, overlooked heroine who metamorphoses into a stunning, sophisticated beauty with a mind of her own. And, of course, it has a lovely, happy ending.
Once again I owe thanks for a new discovery to Simon at Stuck in a Book, who wrote a lovely review here but, as usual, I’m a little late to the party, because other people posted pieces about this months and months ago.
|This is a 1919 cover I stole from Simon at Stuck in a Book,
so I hope he doesn’t mind. Personally, I think it looks
rather sinister with all those eyes.
Anyway, I digress. Orphaned Patricia, secretary to a rising MP (who is unlikely to rise very far), is an impoverished “paying guest” at the Galvin House Residential Hotel, where the boarders, the landlady, and the building itself are all down on their luck. One day she overhears two of her elderly fellow “guests” pitying her because she doesn’t have ‘a nice young man’ to take her out. Hitherto, whatever she may have thought about the inquisitive residents and their pretentious gentility, Patricia has always remained polite. But she’s 24, lonely, and bored – and at this point something inside snaps.
Needless to say, the young man – Lt Col Lord Peter Bowen, DSO (how fortuitous that his name is so similar to the make-believe boyfriend!) – falls in love with Patricia, and she is equally smitten, but won’t admit it. 22She’s determined not to succumb to Lord Peter’s charms: he may offer an escape from her dreary life, but she is much too proud to marry a wealthy man when she is poor.
|Looking at this 1970s cover you’d never know the
book is set in 1918!
As Lord Peter pursues Patricia, and she tries to keep him at a distance, a kind of sparring partnership develops between them, reminiscent of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. But there are complications because Patricia’s original story means everyone thinks she and Lord Peter are already engaged… And life becomes even more awkward with a visit from sour, interfering Aunt Adelaide (her sole surviving relative)!
|I imagine Patricia’s dress looking a little like the pink
one on the left, but in black, with some white trimming,
and red flowers at the waist. From Delineator May 1918
A costume was usually a two-piece outfit, but charmeuse puzzled me. I thought it might be a fashionable style, but it turned out to be very fine, satiny material, which drapes and clings, so perhaps this was one of those rather shapeless, floaty outfits that were so popular at the time, with a kind of longish jacket layered over a skirt that came above the ankle, but well below the knee.
|Or there’s this, also from 1918, which is less floaty,
and a bit more classy perhaps, and the white cuffs
and neckline are rather nice.
And those patent boots must have been highly desirable, because in 1918 questions were raised in Parliament following an Army Council Order the previous year which effectively banned the sale and manufacture of women’s boots, presumably to free up materials and workers for the armed forces.
I should point out that Patricia Brent, Spinster was originally published by in 1918, and re-issues were available as late as the 1970s, but print editions are hard to find. However, it is available as Ebook from Project Gutenberg.
|High, shiny, black boots! These were made in America in 1918,
and I think they look pretty stylish, so perhaps Patricia wore
something similar. Found on collections.lacma.org